June 30, 2009

Payne Stewart's Son Playing Tournament This Week on Pinehurst #2

Aaron Stewart, 20, is competing in the pretigious North and South Amateur this week on the site of his father's famous -- and final -- win.

On a misty, cool Father's Day ten years ago, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Payne Stewart had one of the best final-round US Open battles on the venerable Pinehurst #2 course, with Stewart prevailing over Mickelson at the last, when he sunk a fifteen-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to win his second US Open.

Stewart had been the picture of calm, cool and collected that day, going about his business with an almost detached air despite the heat and light the three men were generating as they came down the stretch towards the clubhouse. When his winning putt fell in the cup, he could no longer contain the raw emotions that had been coursing through him all afternoon. He thrust his fist into the air with a whoop and holler, and celebrated the well deserved win.

Four month later, he was dead -- a victim of a horrible aircraft malfunction that allowed all of the air in the cabin to escape, killing everyone aboard while the plane flew onward as a ghost ship.

Aaron Stewart was ten years old at the time, and not even a big golf fan or player. He didn't start taking the game seriously until he was in high school, and last week was the first time he returned to the Pinehurst course since the 2001 dedication of the statue behind the 18th hole that marks his father's legacy there.

Aaron is in his sophomore year year at Southern Methodist, and one day hopes to be a PGA Touring pro. “Our family has always thought very highly of the people here and Pinehurst overall, so when I found out about the North and South, I thought if I could get in, it’d be a lot of fun to play,” he said.

He will need to survive two days of medal play to qualify for the match play bracket over the weekend, and should he do that, he will have a chance for a rare father-son victory in different tournaments on the same course.

Aaron will have a secret weapon that may well make that a strong possibility: Mike Hicks, his father's former caddy who was on the bag for Payne's 1999 victory will be caddying for him this weekend. Of Aaron, Hicks told Raleigh's WRAL TV that “The mannerisms and the way he conducts himself, there’s a few things that remind me a lot of his dad."

And if Aaron Stewart can conquer the tough test that is the #2 course, he will in many ways become just like his famous father as well.

June 28, 2009

Does Your Club Have Its Own "CSI: Handicap?"

Handicaps are golf's great equalizer: players of two different abilities can have a match with one another, and based upon their handicaps, if each plays to their established abilities, then there should be a close and interesting match between the two. That is, as long as everyone is honest about their scores and their golf, and also if they are consistent in posting their scores when they play.

Problem is, not everyone is scrupulous and they game the handicap system in order to achieve a higher or lower index than they rightfully deserve. The later scofflaw, the guy who inflates his scores in order to have a higher index, is probably trying to gain an edge in tournaments at his club or elsewhere. The perjorative common term for this kind of cheater is a "sandbagger." And in my view, sandbaggers are the worst kind of cheat there is in the game of golf.

Fortunately, the USGA takes handicap cheating very seriously, and has create a way for your club to have its own "CSI" to serve justice: a Committee for Sandbagger Identification.

No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes when it comes to the rules of golf from time to time. The best of us call penalties on ourselves when this becomes apparent -- and we do so out of honor and respect for the game. Sometimes we may miss something, and are reminded by a competitor -- and our faces turn red in apologetic shame for the transgression. It wasn't that we weren't trying to play honest golf, it's simply that we didn't know we had crossed a line. We play by the rules and we post our real scores, not something we pulled out from some unmentionable region beneath our wallets.

And the USGA Handicap system is quite fair: it expects folks to have career days sooner or later, and also have days when their score might indicate their desire to toss their bag in the nearest lake. All of that is accounted for, with the simple expectation: play by the rules and report hoest sports. Easy enough. Thankfully, almost no golfer has to run through the complicated formula for handicap calculation -- computers do that, but rest assured, it is a fair system.

Fair, unless there's a guy who will deliberately cheat -- improve his lie when no one is watching, for example. That's another level higher on the golfing blackguard, and he is the detestable sort who makes a match grueling in that you have to not only be vigilant over your own game, but his too. If you catch him in the act, he usually denies what he's done, because let's be honest here -- lying is also part and parcel of cheating on the golf course...and most liars try to cover one lie with another lie.

At the pinnacle of golf's con artists and ne'er-do-wells is the fellow who cheats across the board by sandbagging.

He's the grifter of the game,
the hustler who wants you to believe that he's a fourteen indexer -- right before he goes and drops an easy 75 in the money match of your annual club championship. Truth is, this guy is a real five handicap, but he wants to have that trophy so badly that honor means nothing. Considering the high intrinsic value golf places on honor -- we are our own referees, after all -- what does that say about him? Nothing much good, you can be sure of that.

The next day, this fellow might not be able to find the fairway with a seeing eye dog, or make a putt longer than two inches, but on days when trophies and cash is handed out, he's Tiger Woods. After all, he's "working on his handicap" -- or if you prefer, getting ready to scam his next victims.

Truth is, that fellow is a coward afraid to play you true handicap to true handicap. He may be better than you in reality, but he's afraid to play without crutches. You might beat him and his ego might not be able to handle that.

Fortunately, there are remedies for that sort: the Handicap Committee of your club. You do have one, right? The USGA gives the Handicap Committee a lot of leeway and power to manage their club's handicaps, and they can, at their discretion, fix a problem index for a golfer who won't be honest about his scores. It's a thankless job, but a necessary one to ensure fair competitions. Without their work, the grifters would make a mockery of the handicap system and eventually interest in tournament play would suffer. Who likes to play a game rigged against them, after all?

Specifically, the rule states "the Handicap Committee shall determine the amount of the adjustment." That can be for sandbagging, failing to post good scores, or any number of the range of handicap infractions. Cheaters post fictional scores, or quit after 12 holes to avoid posting a score, for example, can be fixed right up once the Committee figures it all out. Their powers are such that they can also simply take someone's handicap index away entirely -- thus crippling the scofflaw's ability to enter into amateur tournaments. That's happened three times here in North Carolina that I know of, and each time the USGA faithfully backed the Handicap Committee after evidence was presented.

Don't think that the adjustment is always to a lower number -- there are people who deflate their handicap in order to keep a single digit or otherwise low index, presumably to protect their pride. That's not the guy you want in a better ball match, uneless you have a strong back and plan to carry him on it for 18 holes.

How long does a penalty handicap last? As long as the committee thinks it should, although the USGA wants the committee to review such decisions each month when handicaps normally are revised.

So there is justice in the golfing world.

June 26, 2009

The Open Going Back to Giving The Winner A Belt

Ryan Balangee at Waggle Room reported this first, but it's interesting to note nonetheless: Prestwick to Hand Belt to 2010 Open Champion.

"FOR only the second time since Young Tom Morris won three consecutive Opens between 1868 and 1870, an achievement which entitled him to take permanent possession of the championship belt, Prestwick golf club will present the winner of the Open in St Andrews in 2010 with a replica of the prized red morocco leather belt ornamented with silver.

"While all the victors since Young Tom, who received a gold medal in 1872, have lifted the Claret Jug, Sandy Lyle was the fortunate recipient of a replica belt in 1985 at Royal St George's to mark the championship's 125th anniversary."

This is a fantastic idea, and I am very glad it will come to pass. In my view, all too often, golf is forgetting its roots and its traditions, and by doing this, Prestwick will be calling attention not only to that, but also to two of golf's earliest and greatest champions, Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris (pictured wearing the Champions Belt, left.)

The Morris father and son combo were probably the first pair of great champions in the game. Each won the Open Championship four times, "Old" Tom in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867, and "Young" Tom, his son, won it in 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1872. No Open was held in 1871. Young Tom's four consecutive victories is notable in that he was given the Champions Belt after the third win and the famous Claret Jug was purchased for the next tournament in 1872, and his became the first name to be engraved on it. In their time, they were golf's greatest champions and both added greatly to the game, though Young Tom's life ended in heartbreak and tragedy.

In September 1875 Young Tom and his father were playing a match with Willie and Mungo Park, and Young Tom received a telegram that his beloved and pregnant wife, Margaret, had suddenly got very sick. The Morrises rushed home but during their journey, they received a telegram that it was too late: Young Tom's wife and newborn baby were dead.

Morris never recovered from the loss, and he died on Christmas Day the same year. Legend has it that he died of a broken heart, which cannot be far from the truth -- with his spirit broken, his health declined and he was left prone to influenza, which many say actually killed him. While the story of influenza may or may not be apocryphal, one thing is a certainty -- without his family, Young Tom lost his will to live and joined his lost loved ones in the great beyond not long after.

Golf writers ever since have wondered how many more Open championships the 24 year old would have won had this tragedy not happened. Considering that he won four by the time he passed on and at a young age, it's conceivable he would have at least doubled or perhaps even tripeled his numbers of wins.

For his part, Old Tom cannot be overlooked not only for his winnings, but also for his ever-lasting contributions to golf: he standardized the concept of 18 holes and introduced the concept of modern routing, where typically each nine holes return to the club house. He added that one would go out into the prevailing conditions and return the opposite way, providing a more thorough test of one's game. Morris was also the first to place hazards in a way that a player could route their golf ball around or over them, offering a new strategy that had not existed before. He also was the first to top-dress greens, something that's standard fare at nearly any golf course in the world today.

Finally, Old Tom left behind a number of courses rich with design elements that they have been copied ever since. He deserves credit for Muirfield, Prestwick and Carnoustie as a prime designer, among others and he also lent a major hand to the Old Course in St Andrews among many others.

By reviving the Champions Belt, stories of these great men will be told once more, and for golf fans everywhere interested in the game, that's an experience long overdue in modern coverage.

June 25, 2009

Mickelson and Duval Think Bethpage Would Be a Great Ryder Cup Venue As Well

Phil Mickelson and David Duval both think that Bethpage Black -- and its fans -- would make a spectacular Ryder Cup venue:
"The people here are incredible, and I just keep thinking that this is like the ideal spot to hold the Ryder Cup," he said Monday.

"First of all, the course is terrific, because 16, 17 and 18 are so close together. And the way the fans are, I think we would have a big advantage."

"David Duval concurred. "Now that would be a heck of an idea," he said after tying Mickelson and Ricky Barnes for second place. "It's sure a good enough golf course for it."
And, as I said on Monday, it would also create an incredible home-field advantage for the American side, one that has all too often found itself outgunned and overmatched in the biannual event.

Say what you will about the way that fans behaved at the US Open, the Ryder Cup would be a perfect venue for the New York Fan atmosphere. It is most certainly a partisan event, and as we saw last year at Valhalla, the players can feed off of the positive vibes of the fans in attendance. Interestingly, a lot of writers are now saying that the stories painting fans at Bethpage as out of control were, shall we say, a tad overwrought. Patrick Sauer, who did a fine job of covering the US Open for Huffington Post (yes, the Huffington Post) said this:
" I read a number of articles about the drunken hecklers raining down obscenities on the poor fragile golfers. I am going to call at least half-bullcrap on that storyline. Sure, by the time Saturday's skies open up and poured around 7 p.m., there were plenty of soused golf fans that had put in a full day's drink. Including, umm, many of those who took shelter throughout the day in the hospitality tent. Was there some friendly taunting? Sure. And maybe "friendly" in the New York City area comes off as "aggressive and hostile" elsewhere, but I never heard anyone yell during a golfer's swing, nor did I hear any cursing at a particular player (Although I was never near poor old Fred Funk.) Yes, the mooks were out in full force, but they were mostly having fun, the obnoxious drunks were far outnumbered by people having a big time in the heavy stuff."
Golf blogger extraordinaire Stephanie Wei saw more or less the same thing at Bethpage, and she commented that
"At the same time, the energy, encouragement and enthusiasm have been unparalleled to anything I’ve ever experienced - especially at a golf tournament; one that has been muddy and wet, no less. Sure, they’ll always be “that” guy yelling something less-than-intelligent. But for the most part, people have been supportive and positive. (I mean, haven’t you heard the cheers for Phil?) The players haven’t seemed to mind either. In fact, I think many have been entertained and encouraged by the crowd’s response. What else can you do? It is pretty amusing."
"That" guy that Stephanie refers to shows up everywhere, and to paint New York fans as worse than what you might see at any tournament is wrong. After all, at this year's Player's Championship in Pontre Vedra Beach Florida for blustering "FIGJAM" in the direction of Phil Mickelson. And at this year's Bay Hill tournament, Mickelson was again the vicitim of someone with a complete lack of social graces when a fan yelled "Get in the lake!" after Lefty teed off. All of that leads me to believe that the over-stereotyped NY fan was probably slandered a bit by reporters with selective hearing last weekend. Sure sounds like they were no better or no worse than golf fans anywhere in the US.

The bottom line here is that Bethpage Black is more than course enough to be an incredible match play venue and the fans that have attended the two majors there have more than shown their mettle after two US Opens, so now the ball is on the the PGA's green -- they simply need to make the right call and get a future Ryder Cup in Farmingdale, NY. Whether the PGA listens to Mickelson and Duval and awards a Ryder Cup to Bethpage is anyone's guess.

June 24, 2009

The Ultimate Golf Room? With Lynni Megginson Designing It, I'm Sure It Will Be

Washington DC interior designer-extraordinaire Lynni Megginson is a dear friend of ours, and she's embarked on a project that most golfers would consider to be the ultimate addition to their home: a golf room in the CharityWorks GreenHouse, a project in McLean Virginia that will feature the best practices in Green Design for sustainability. According to the EPA, 43 percent of carbon emissions - the leading source of greenhouse gases - are created by residential and commercial buildings, and the GreenHouse will be be the first in the DC area that has zero. The private initiative will create a home that will eventually be sold at market.

Without any exaggeration or hyperbole, Lynni is rapidly becoming a superstar in the design world. Her work is found in the finest homes in the DC area, and she's a featured magazine columnist and guest on television shows like "Good Morning America." Regarding the CharityWorks design, she says that
'We’ll be installing a 150K HD simulator that enables you to tee off at any major course in the world from the comfort of your home. Our design vibe, however, will be more 'retro' as opposed to 'traditional pro shop.' This is the golf room that Dean Martin would have had in his house!'
I'm told that the simulator makes the new Tiger Woods game on the Wii platform pale in comparison. We'll have to see about that, as the new Wii/Woods game is getting rave reviews, but of course, it costs a couple magnitudes less money, so one would have to think that maybe the simulator going in the GreenHouse will have the edge. One thing is for sure -- it will be in an awesome setting.

The CharityWorks GreenHouse opens to the public in October.

June 23, 2009

Put The Ryder Cup In Metro New York City Pronto!

It's been amusing watching the banter in press and blogosphere over the conduct of the fans at Bethpage Black this week.

You'll hear different tales of how good or how bad they were, but one thing is certain: the fans braved the rain and the mud and supported the event...and that they added a rich, spicy flavor to the proceedings. There are few fans of any sport more stalwart or determined than the New Yorker, and without any doubt, the USGA had no worries over the weekend that the fans would brave the elements regardless of the challenge they presented.

New Yorkers, for better or worse are direct and blunt, but one can always be certain where they stand with a New Yorker. No passive-aggression from that lot at a sporting event, and they will let a player know it when they've done well or they've done poorly. At a Masters or a US Open in another city, you might hear a couple scattered claps or silence following a poor shot. Not in New York. Someone will pipe up and let the golfer know exactly what the crowd is thinking.

Imagine, if you will, the 128th Open Championship at Carnoustie being held in the New York area and the crowd reaction to Jean Van De Velde's utterly silly collapse on the final hole. By the time Van de Velde had taken his third shot, the one in the heathers where he moved the ball only a few feet, if you were on the east coast you would have been able to hear the fans' catcalls. And it would have only gotten worse for the Frenchman as he took his fourth, fifth, and sixth shots on his way to throwing away the championship.

It will be quite a while until we get another taste of Big Apple hospitality in our national golfing championship, however. Future sites for the US Open are

2010 – Pebble Beach Golf Links (Pebble Beach, California – June 17–20)
2011 – Congressional Country Club, Blue Course (Bethesda, Maryland – June 16–19)
2012 – The Olympic Club, Lake Course (San Francisco, California – June 14–17)
2013 – Merion Golf Club, East Course (Ardmore, Pennsylvania – June 13–16)
2014 – Pinehurst Resort, Course #2 (Pinehurst, North Carolina – June 12–15)
2015 – Chambers Bay (University Place, Washington – June 18–21)
2016 – Oakmont Country Club (Oakmont, Pennsylvania – June 16–19)

and it is a virtual certainty that taken as a whole the galleries at these sites will be much more, shall we say, discriminating in their commentary towards players.

No matter where your opinion falls regarding the fans this week, there is an event in golf where they would provide a home-field advantage non-pareil: the Ryder Cup. Why that isn't planned for the near future is somewhat mystiying:

2012 Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Illinois, U.S.A.
2016 Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota, U.S.A.
2020 Ryder Cup Whistling Straits (Straits Course), Kohler, Wisconsin

The Ryder Cup should be in the tri-state area, stat. The Euros would have two years to dread playing in that crowd, and they would more than likely cross the Atlantic already defeated by the idea. And the NY fans would be all to happy to let them know about it.

June 22, 2009

David Duval Earns Back The Respect He Deserved All Along

Once the #1 Player in the world, and a major champion, starting in 2002, David Duval was beset like Job: depression that reared its head constantly, a back injury, a split with his finacee and possibly worst of all, a bout with vertigo that took away his keen sense of balance -- something of vital importance to a top-flight golfer.

Since his victory at the 2001 British Open, he's yet to win any tournament anywhere, and he's plummeted from golf's #1 to #882 coming into the US Open this weekend at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, New York. Few if any gave David Duval any chance to make the cut, much less vye for the tournament win.

"[T]he PGA Tour should assign someone to follow him and scream "Fore!!!" during his backswing, just to give the spectators time to duck behind a tree." - Rich Tosches, Devil Ball Golf, 2008


In fact, when people in pro golf have heard Duval say lately that he felt like his game was back, they laughed at him. But it was David Duval who had the last laugh, this week anyway: with a mere four holes to go in the 2009 US Open, he was tied for the lead and poised to win the tournament. This not being a fairy-tale, there was no happy ending so far as a US Open win was concerned, but in reality, David Duval proved that he is still a winner and that's a win in and of itself not only for Duval personally, but for golf generally.

How soon they forget: this is the guy that shot a 59 at the Player's Championship, the guy that was always in contention, and the guy capable of reeling off victories with ease. The simple fact is that David Duval has accomplished more in golf than most players ever do, yet he became the victim of snide jokes filled with contempt.

Depression is not accurately described by its dictionary definition: "a mental state characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity." It's not a state of feeling sad and not feeling good enough, though that can be part of it. It's certainly not something one can just shake off, as though they had a bad day at the office -- the popular conception of the disease amongst a lot of people. Research increasingly demonstrates a biological condition where "[of the thirty] or so neurotransmitters that have been identified, researchers have discovered associations between clinical depression and the function of three primary ones: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These three neurotransmitters function within structures of the brain that regulate emotions, reactions to stress, and the physical drives of sleep, appetite, and sexuality. Structures that have received a great deal of attention from depression researchers include the limbic system and hypothalamus." [link] In layman's terms, clinical depression is as much a physical disease as is muscular distrophy or a heart defect. Overcoming the disease is difficult, and while there is no cure, its symptoms can be mitigated with the proper treatment, and eventually the patient can function at near-normal levels.

It appears that Duval is doing just that, and just in the nick of time: he is in the last year of his PGA Tour exemption, meaning that he will need to either win a tournament, finish in the top 125 of money earned or re-qualify for the PGA Tour by going through Q-School this fall. His check for his second-place tie will go far to vaulting him up the Top 125, and if he brings the same sort of game that he had in his bag that he had this week at Bethpage, a win is not at all out of the question. Duval was achingly close this afternoon, and truly, it was only a lipped out putt and a raw rub of the green here or there that kept him out of at least a playoff with eventual winner Lucas Glover. Duval tied Phil Mickelson, and beat Tiger Woods, not to mention the rest of the field. He finished under par at a US Open venue. If he can do these things at Bethpage, he can do it again at a regular tour event.

And when he does, the know-it-alls in golf who haven't gone through one tenth of the turmoil in their lives that Duval has had in his won't be laughing. David Duval will be, but it will be with his wife, his family and to him, he says, that's all that matters.

In my mind, and with all due respect to tournament winner Lucas Glover, considering the arduous journey, David Duval is the real winner this week.

A Picture Says a Thousand Words

From Newsday's article "US Open Fans Heckle Tiger Woods"

June 21, 2009

Barnes Comes From Nowhere To Lead US Open

Mid-way through the third round of the US Open, little-known Ricky Barnes leads the tournament, and could on his way to joining a very exclusive club: that of the unheralded winner taming one of the toughest tests in the game of golf.

Barnes, the 2002 US Amateur Champion, has hardly made a huge splash on the PGA Tour his rookie year. His best finish was a tie for 42nd, he's ranked 169th in fairways hit, 105th for reaching greens in regulation and his putting a woeful 192nd amongst his touring pro peers.

Coupled with his unremarkable record in majors, one could see why no one gave him a second thought coming into the week:

Tournament 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
The Masters DNP DNP DNP 21 LA DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
U.S. Open CUT DNP CUT T59 DNP DNP DNP CUT DNP
British Open DNP DNP DNP CUT DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
PGA Championship DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP

Barnes graduated from the Nationwide Tour to the PGA after last season, when he finished 25th on the Nationwide Money list, with his best performance on that tour being a second place showing in the 2006 Oregon Classic, where he lost in a playoff to Cliff Kresge.

While there is an incredible amount of golf yet to be played, and Barnes winning the tournament is by no means a sure thing - in fact, the odds are still stacked against him - what's clear is that Barnes has caught lightning in a bottle and has thus far mastered the sopping wet Bethpage Black golf course.

June 19, 2009

USGA Has a Change of Heart, Will Allow Rained Out Thursday Ticket Holders Entrance on Monday

Judy Rankin, who is commentating on the USGA.com feed just announced that the USGA has decided that folks who had Thursday tickets to the rained-out proceedings access to the course on Monday using their Thursday ducts, that is, if golf is held that day. Considering the weather forecast, that seems like a near certainty. Additionally, the USGA has made the announcement giving people ample time to make any necessary plans.

This is a fantastic change of heart for the USGA and will go far to alleviate the frustation ticket-holders.

June 18, 2009

The Weather Soaks The Course, And The USGA Soaks First-Day Ticket Holders

As I tweeted earlier today, the USGA has decided to not refund or exchange any tickets for the lost first round of the US Open today at Bethpage...and people who spent the day seeing only a few holes of golf are not happy about the decision.

Golf.com's Press Tent: No Refunds or Rainchecks for US Open Ticket Holders

"According to the USGA's Rand Jerris, Thursday's abbreviated round -- in which the lead group made it to only the 11th hole -- counts as a day of golf and the USGA will not issue refunds or rain checks. While the tournament could finish on Monday due to forecasts for continued rain, Jerris said the USGA has not made a decision regarding possible tickets for Monday. However, Thursday tickets will not be honored and fans can throw them away, Jerris said.

"Jerris could not answer questions about how the no-refund decision was made or if there is a set number of holes or time on the course that constitutes a "day" of golf. He referred those question to USGA higher-ups who were not immediately available for comment. The extensive fine print on the back of the ticket does not cover the USGA's rain-delay policies, and no clear explanation of rain-check policy is contained in the USGA's online spectator guide."

(note: I added the link above to the fine print)

In the past, ticket conditions for USGA events have had the statement (which I will paraphrase from memory) that if one golfer strikes one shot, they consider that a day of golf and that no refunds or rainouts will be issued." That's missing from this year's policies, but I saw it in my Pinehurst ticket packages and remember it quite well because I made a point to tell that to anyone who was interested in buying one of my spare tickets and going with me to see the action. I wanted them to know they were taking on the risk I already had, and that I wouldn't be the one issuing them a refund, because that was the USGA policy. After all, it is not unheard of to have a rainy day in June in North Carolina. In fact, the storm now plaguing Bethpage spent Monday through early this morning here before moving north.

In my mind, that's a pretty severe and stingy policy on the USGA's part. Most sports have some form of partial rainout policies -- for example, most car races are not considered official if one car passes the start-finish line at the start of a race, nor is a baseball game official until two-thirds of the event has been played.

Even the USGA's own handicapping rules say that over two-thirds of a round must be played for it to count towards the whole. If a golfer doesn't complete 13 holes, they can only record nine for handicap purposes. That's a long way from hitting one shot off of the first tee.

Come Monday, if the US Open is not finished, crowds will start to thin as people who've planned to attend the event must return to duties at home and their jobs. If it goes to Tuesday, the US Open crowd may well resemble one might expect at a first round of a second-tier PGA Tour event -- in other words, empty grandstands and sparse crowds everywhere else.

The well-heeled organization would do well to generate itself some good PR and offer the soaked (in two ways, literally and financially) fans free entrance to Monday or at the very least a greatly reduced price for those days if it comes to it. Or they could offer a discount to next year's event.

But it's easier to keep the money and let people's irritation go by the wayside, just like any other heartless corporation. This is something that folks will remember when the USGA comes calling for donations in the future, and they can forecast that a lot more reliably than the weather over Bethpage this weekend.

And So It Begins...The Slobbering Onslaught of Endless Hyperbole

Every year, when the US Open begins, pundits, analysts and reporters fall all over themselves to top their previous year's hyperbole. Not only is it wildly inaccurate, it's insulting to the intelligence of the knowledgeable golf fan.

Without a doubt, the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines was one of the most exciting ever played. And without looking at television and web ratings, it was also one of the most widely watched ever. No one can deny the drama of a hobbled Tiger Woods dueling back and forth with Rocco Mediate, the happy-go-lucky journeyman with a heart of steel that stared Tiger down for 91 holes before a single shot and missed putt gave Woods the win. It was compelling, awesome and entertaining golf. But it was the best ever?

That's a hard call, unless you happen to have a TV camera in front of you. The sycophantic hyperbole coming out of the mouths of nearly everyone covering the event as the greatest tournament ever played was so incessant that it became sickening - it gave the feeling that one had downed three cobs of cotton candy and a gallon of soda besides. Great, yes, but to instantly label it the best-ever was probably wrong, because at the end of the day, little changed in the golf world as a result of the tournament. The king, Woods, had held his ground while the challenger, Mediate, was left to shake his head in admiration. That was the expected outcome.

Consider other great US Opens through history, some that had and have lasting effects on the game:

Former caddy and store clerk Frances Ouimet beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray (the Tiger and Phil of his day) in 1913, after a playoff between the three men. To even get there, Ouimet had to make a courageous and unexpected comeback in the final holes of regulation and in the playoff he had to battle not only his nerves, but also two of the most enduring icons of the game. That he did, and the rest as they say, is history. Ouimet's stunning upset, coupled with US-born Johnny McDermott's 1911 and 1912 wins put golf on the map in the minds of US sports fans, and has to be one of the top 5 upsets in sports of all time. Not only that, the victory also inspired a great many to pick up clubs and try golf for themselves, which fueled an explosion of interest in the game that has never receded.

Another stunning US Open was Ben Hogan's win at Merion in 1950. Hogan, who had been left incapacitated in a horrific car accident the year before, was not expected to ever walk again, much less win a US Open. Playing with legs tightly bound in bandages due to poor circulation, Hogan played nearly perfect golf. At the 72nd hole, needing a par to join a playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio, Hogan struck a perfectly struck one-iron onto the difficult 18th green — a shot you may have seen in the immortal photo (left) taken by Hy Peskin — made his par and went on to win an 18-hole playoff to secure the championship the next day. A mere 16 months had passed since that accident, which at the time left Hogan's life in the balance.

The 1962 US Open battle between Arnold Palmer and a young Jack Nicklaus may rate as one of the best (if not the top) US Open duel. Palmer was the undisputed king of golf at the time, with thirty wins in the previous seven years, including four majors. Jack Nicklaus was a wunderkind Johnny-Come-Lately challenger at the time, but he had his own resume -- the 22-year old had the 1959 and 1961 US Amateur titles under his belt and had nearly bested Palmer in the 1960 US Open. Still, Nicklaus was searching for his professional win when he arrived at Oakmont, and few regarded the man still considered the greatest-ever to be a factor in the tournament.

Paired together in the first two rounds, the pair battled fiercely in a close-fought fight with Palmer pulling slightly ahead aver the first three rounds, but on Sunday, Jack pulled even to force a playoff. This did not at all please the crowd -- the '62 Open was played at Oakmont in Palmer's western Pennsylvania homelands -- and Nicklaus had to endure catcalls of 'Fat Jack,' poor etiquette on the gallery's part and open hostility from them as he challenged their beloved Arnie. Shaking all of that off, Nicklaus held steady and eventually forged a tie.

The next day in the 18 hole playoff, Palmer bogeyed the first hole and gave Nicklaus a lead he would never relinquish despite multiple charges from Palmer. After that win, Nicklaus earned the grudging respect of golf fans, went on to win another 18 majors and now is held as the greatest ever to play the game.
The 1962 US Open, however, was where one of the great rivalries in the game was set ablaze, and it lasted until both men retired from tournament golf...but one has to wonder if ever they privately tee it up somewhere and battle just for the sake of playing one another. Today, they are good friends, but on the golf course, they were fierce rivals with neither giving quarter to the other.

With all due respect to Woods in 2008, his was a top three or four win for the ages, but it is difficult to put his win ahead of the three aforementioned wins until it stands the test of time and the judgment of history. But that won't stop Johnny Miller, Golf Channel announcers or especially ESPN from making their exclamations of it over and over and over yet again in the next few days.

They will also incessantly proclaim this year's venue, Bethpage Black as the hardest course ever known to golf. Without a doubt Bethpage is an incredibly tough track, mainly because it is so long and straying from its fairways so punitive. Then again, that's par for any US Open course. Oakmont is tough, so is Pinehurst #2, so is The Country Club and so is Pebble in US Open form. All of them are tough and they all test the world's best to the limits of their ability. The USGA sees to it. And each course has its unique toughness that makes it the hardest test of golf on US soil every year. It's almost impossible to label Bethpage as the toughest ever when they are all uniquely and insanely difficult. Next year, at Pebble Beach, the same claim will be made of that course, then the year after that, Congressional, and so forth and so on.

No matter how tough Bethpage proves to be, I doubt the record for the highest cut line since World War II is in danger: 155 (+15) The Olympic Club, San Francisco, 1955. And more than likely, the highest winning score of 290 strokes by Jack Nicklaus for 72 holes at Pebble Beach in 1972 is equally safe. Unless one or both records fall this weekend, the repeated claims of "toughest ever" as specious and hollow, and should be allowed to go through one ear and out of the other. After all, it's made every year without fail. Until one of those two records are broken, the proclamations are nothing more than noise in the signal.

Frankly, with all due respect to Bethpage, it's not even close to the toughest championship venue in the current rotation of the majors: in my humble opinion, the toughest tournament golf course I have ever seen is Carnoustie, hands-down, bar none. Just imagine if the USGA got its hands on that beast!

June 16, 2009

US Open Heros: Walter Hagen...People Know The Legend, But Not Much About The Man

Walter Hagen won 11 professional majors, more than anyone except Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. Yet few people know his story, only snippets of myth.

Hagen also won 50 PGA tournament events -- and did so in a time when there were far fewer tour events every season. This was due to the Tour just getting started, and indeed, it had just been founded with Walter Hagen playing a key role. That places him in the top ten for wins, and his record has been in that upper echelon of the game for roughly eighty years.

As Gene Sarazen once commented: "All the players who have a chance to go after big money should say a silent prayer to Walter Hagen. It was Walter who made professional golf what it is."

Many people know that Walter Hagen is primarily responsible for the very idea of the touring golf professional, because he was the first professional to play tournament golf exclusively. Other pros at the time were attached to golf clubs, and when they weren't playing tournaments, they were teaching lessons to members, running the pro shop and even building golf clubs to sell. And not only did Hagen invent the concept of the touring pro, he also vastly improved the lot of touring professionals in tournaments everywhere.

“Don't hurry. Don't worry. You're only here for a short visit. So don't forget to stop and smell the roses.” - Walter Hagen

When Hagen first started playing tournaments, golf clubs refused entry to their clubhouses to pro golfers. Hagen found this distasteful and fought hard to end the practice. Once at a tournament in England, he rented a Pierce-Arrow limousine, parked it in front of the clubhouse and used it as a changing room after the club refused him entry to its locker room. With the limo he brought himself a butler who served him a fine meal, and The Haig made a huge show of it all to make the club's policy look as petty as we would now view it. Hagen's unstated but shouted message was "if I can afford to treat myself in this grand manner, who are you to deny me entry into your clubhouse?" Once Hagen even refused to accept the winning prize at a tournament because the club's members refused him entry to their clubhouse.

Indeed, tournament organizers depended on men like Hagen and his contemporary "Long"Jim Barnes for the huge crowds they drew when they played. Hagen also commanded huge sums at exhibitions, a practice he didn't invent but went far to perfect. Like many pros today, Hagen made far more money in exhibitions than he did from tournaments.

"Flamboyant" does not begin to describe Hagen, that word is too small for him. According to sportswriter Vivian Baulch, Hagen was "the first to grab the check and the last to leave the party." His friends were the stars of the day, Al Jolson, W.C. Fields, and many others, and Hagen's arm was seemingly always held by a stunningly beautiful woman he referred to as "doll" -- often because Hagen couldn't recall her name.

Perhaps because of his bon vivant nature, Hagen's his tournament golf record in the majors is over overlooked, but in fact, it is one of undeniable greatness:

• U.S. Open: 1914, 1919
• The Open (British Open): 1922, 1924, 1928, 1929
• PGA Championship: 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927

In fact, it is fair to say that Hagen actually won SIXTEEN majors, considering that in the prime of his career The Masters did not exist and that the Western Open was considered a major in that period. If one makes that concession, they would need to add

• Western Open: 1916, 1921, 1926, 1927, 1932

to his list of major victories. Finally it is fair to note that also during the peak of his professional career Hagen was denied playing in majors at all due to their not being played because of World War I. Were they held, it may well be that Hagen could have had twenty total major victories and it would be him and not Jack Nicklaus that Tiger Woods is in pursuit of today.

It is also notable that Hagen captained the US teamin the first six Ryder Cups and played in the first five as a playing captain in 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, and 1935.

"Make the hard ones look easy and the easy ones look hard." -- Walter Hagen

As a golfer, Hagen was an extremely entertaining, to say the least. Perhaps his play is best described by this quip from Bobby Jones:

"When a man misses his drive, and then misses his second shot, and then wins the hole with a birdie, it gets my goat."

Hagen was never what one would call a great driver of the golf ball, and often times from the fairway (when he found it off the tee) his approach shots could be indifferent. What made Hagen special was his ability to escape trouble and make miraculous recovery shots to land on the putting surface in regulation, and also his ability with the putter. Hagen seemingly sank every important putt in his career, many of them from 40-50 feet. Or longer.

In so doing, Hagen thrilled the crowds, which packed golf courses back then as they do now for Tiger. Indeed, Hagen was the Tiger of his day, every bit as popular in his time as Woods is now, his time being the 1920's, which were the Golden Age of Sports. Hagen's exploits were every bit as infamous as that of Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Red Grange, Notre Dame and even Robert Tyre "Bobby" Jones.

Matches between Jones and Hagen were legendary. The two had great respect for one another, and in fact, Hagen had given Jones some useful advice on how to handle major championship play that Jones later said was a turning point in his competitive career. They were at the least casual friends throughout their lifetimes, despite a fierce rivalry where both refused to give the other quarter on the golf course.

One match in 1926 was probably the lynchpin in Jones' decision to remain an amateur throughout his competitive career, which of course later led to the only Grand Slam ever recorded in golf. Had Jones turned professional, he would have been ineligible for the British and US Amateur championships, and thus no Grand Slam.

Late in 1925, Hagen approached Jones with the idea of putting on what Hagen would promote as "World Championship;" a 72-hole exhibition match between the two men, which would be played at the two golfers' respective clubs in Florida, where both had real estate interests to be played shortly after the beginning of the next year.

The idea of the "World Championship" was hardly new, in 1922, Hagen and Gene Sarazen had played one, and another contest in 1925 was held between Hagen and Cyril Walker, who had won the 1924 US Open, while Hagen won the 1924 (British) Open and PGA Championship. It was not much of a match, with Hagen winning 17-and-16 in that 72 hole affair.

The 1926 "World Championship" might be different, according to many sages of the sporting world. Jones had won the 1924 and 1925 U.S. Amateur and nearly won the US Open that same year. Hagen was the PGA Champion, his second running, making the pair two of the best, if not the best golfers in the world. Surely, the conventional wisdom of the day held, this "World Championship" would be a neck and neck affair perhaps decided by the last stroke of the last hole.

For his part Hagen figured that this particular "World Championship" match would not only draw a great deal of interest in the media and among fans everywhere, it would also draw spectators to the courses where they would be played, and of course those spectators would mean potential sales leads. Coupled with the caveat that Hagen would keep any and all financial proceeds from the match (Jones was an amateur and could not accept monetary benefits) it was a no-lose situation for The Haig -- his kind of match. Indeed, fan interest was keen and loyalties largely divided amongst those rooting for "the amateur" Jones, or "the pro" Hagen. For weeks leading up to the event, the press debated the merits and flaws in each players' game.

The match itself didn't live up to it's heavyweight title fight billing. Hagen handed Jones a humiliating 12-and-11 defeat, which Jones took it as a clear sign that he wouldn't be able to rely on his ability as a golfer to pay his bills, and that he would better be served by depending on his law practice for his salary.

The rest of Jones' story is legend. Time would of course, prove that Bobby Jones had every bit of ability one would ever possibly need to earn a living on the links, but the die was cast for the Atlantan to remain an amateur. Jones would go on to win golf's only true Grand Slam, retire shortly afterward and start a personal project that would come to be known as Augusta National and The Masters.

Lesser noticed was "The Rematch." It was not long after the "World Championship" that Bobby Jones had a chance to redeem himself when the pair competed again two weeks later in the Florida West Coast Open. This time, Jones fared better but Hagen still bested him by two strokes to win the medal play event.


Of that period, Jones recollected in his autobiography that "the biggest golfing year of my life, 1926, began with the most impressive trouncing I ever got -- and it was by a professional, Walter Hagen." Jones added "Walter was just too good for me." Jones then concluded that "I have plenty of distinguished company among the victims of Walter's rampages."


For his part, Hagen called the 1926 'World Championshi' "my greatest thrill in golf."


As a sportsman, Hagen may best be defined not by winning, but by losing. In 1950, a vote among golf writers was held to determine who was the greatest golfer of the first half of the 20th century, and there, Jones edged out Hagen. Afterward, The Haig told reporters that "I would have voted for Jones myself. He was marvelous."


Finally, it is odd that there are only two biographies generally available on perhaps golf's most colorful character: 2005's Sir Walter: Walter Hagen and the Invention of Professional Golf by Tom Clavin, and The Walter Hagen Story: By The Haig, Himself (by Margaret Seaton Heck, Walter Hagen, and Daniel Wexler.)


Given his place in the history of the sport, it is surprising that there are not a plethora of books about The Haig, not to mention a definitive bio-pic from Hollywood. Of the two books, I cannot recommend one over the other, and would in fact tell someone who asked me to read both. Two books is a scant modern record for golf's biggest character and one of its greatest-ever champions -- a man who belongs in the same sentence as Woods, Nicklaus and any other golfer who lay claim to greatness.



The Forgotten US Open Hero; For Shame, USGA

In 1971, the US Open was being played at Merion Cricket Club outside of Philadelphia, and an old man, dressed in an old rumpled suit and led by hospital attendants was ordered out of the clubhouse and told not to go near the locker room or the players. Course officials even considered throwing him off of the property for trespassing, but that never came to pass. Heartbroken, he was about to leave and to return to his rest home -- forgotten and near death at 79 years old.

Fortuitously at the same time, Arnold Palmer was walking to the first tee. He recognized the old man, and immediately put his arm around him. Palmer, a Pennsylvanian, instantly knew he was, and began talking to him with deference.

The old man's name was Johnny McDermott, and he was the first US-born US Open champion -- in fact, McDermott won the event twice: in 1911 and 1912.

"How’s your game these days?" Palmer asked him.

"I’m hitting the ball good," McDermott said, "but my putting is not what it should be."

Palmer replied kindly, "I know exactly what you mean." He smiled admiringly and added, "the only thing we can do is keep practicing."

Palmer, then as ever the gentleman, arranged for McDermott to remain at the tournament as his special guest with all of the privileges of a player in the event, something that the old man relished and said that he enjoyed every moment of.

Not long after that US Open, on August 1, 1971, Johnny McDermott died quietly in his sleep. He was eleven days shy of his eightieth birthday. The Philadelphia Inquirer noting his passing simply reported "Yeadon Man Dies, Won Open."

One must wonder how the USGA and too many others overlooked him then, and quite frankly overlooks McDermott and his golfing accomplishments to this day. Not too many players ever won a US Open, much less two. Sam Snead failed to capture the national championship, for example. Yet he is far more exalted in Far Hills, NJ USGA Museum than is McDermott.

At the 1911 U.S. Open in Chicago won a three-way playoff by two strokes and became not only the first American-born champion in the event, but also at nineteen, the youngest. McDermott would win again in 1912, which of course led to the infamous 1913 event at Brookline where former caddy Ouimet defeated two legends, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Those three US Opens contributed greatly to the game's popularity in the US.

Of McDermott, Robert Sommers wrote in his book "The U.S. Open: Golf’s Ultimate Challenge" that he "ended the domination of immigrant British golfers, and was leading a wave of young homebreds…who were to revolutionize the way the game was played."

Indeed, McDermott as the first American player to win the American title led the tidal wave to come of great American golfers. Ouimet helped put golf into the American conscious to stay in 1913. Not many years later, Walter Hagen won the US Open and the British Open, and with Hagen, the uninterrupted era of American players dominating the upper reaches of the game began in earnest. But few people remember McDermott, and that is a travesty.

June 15, 2009

Some Pinehurst History

The St. Andrews Links Trust describes Pinehurst #2 better than any one else ever could: "“of all the golf centers in the world, there is perhaps only one that comes close to sharing the ideas and aspirations of St. Andrews – “Pinehurst.”

(pictured: Pinehurst's original course, with square sand greens.)

Golf, a sport of growing popularity in the United States at the time of Pinehurst’s founding, was introduced to the resort not by its owner, but by its guests. People staying at James Walker Tufts’ new North Carolina resort liked to practice their games when the golf was in its American infancy. Their experiments went relatively unnoticed amid the 5,500-acre landscape of the new resort until 1898, when Tufts received an angry complaint from a resort dairyman. Apparently, the Pinehurst guests were hitting little, white balls into his pasture and frightening his cows. Rather than rein in his paying guests, Tufts built them a place for their game – the first golf course. From that moment, the winter resort known as Pinehurst was forever changed.

Pinehurst’s first golf course, a nine-hole, primitive set of links, is laid out by Dr. D. LeRoy Culver, an amateur designer, in 1898. The original clubhouse had dressing rooms for both men and women, which was somewhat unusual at the time. It reflected the interest that women of the time had in golf, but it also underlined the long-standing Pinehurst philosophy of treating all of its guests equally. This is a tradition that is never stated at Pinehurst but is always carried out with quiet efficiency.

The turning of the century in 1900 proved to be a watershed year for the resort, and for golf for over a century: Harry Vardon played an exhibition match on the resort’s now 18-hole course,
which cemented Pinehurt’s reputation among a growing number of American golf enthusiasts. At the time, Vardon was the equivilent of a Tiger Woods. The same year, Scottish-born golf pro Donald Ross came to Pinehurstfor what trned into a 48-year stay until his death.

In 1907, Donald Ross completed the design and construction of Pinehurst No. 2, a course which was designed from the beginning as a “championship course.” It was immediately heralded by professionals and lovers of the game as a masterpiece, and that assessment has withstood the test of time.

Ross would later go on to design the following courses in the Pinehurst area:

Ross also designed Pinehurst No. 4, and built the first nine holes before the money woes of The Depression stopped the project. Through the years, #4 developed a checkered past of closing, reopening and multiple redesign by four different architects before Tom Fazio set an entirely new course on the same routing in 1999. Of the newer Pinehurst courses, #4 is often listed as a favorite by resort guests but is sometimes considered a lost gem by Donald Ross afficianados.

Today, "Pinehurst" encompasses much more than the sprawling eight-course resort. Midland Road, which bisects Pinehurst Village on its way to nearby Southern Pines, NC. Along its relatively short length, one will find Longleaf CC, Mid-South CC, Mid-Pines CC, the National Golf Club, Talamore GC, and of course, Pine Needles and Pinehurst #2....among others. These courses feature designers such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ellis Maples, Tom Fazio and of course, Donald Ross.

US Open Doubleheader in 2014 - Another Coup For North Carolina Golf

Here in Raleigh, NC we have a plethora of golf choices -- more public golf than one can swing a stick at, and a mere 40 minute drive from one of the true Meccas of the game: the Pinehurst/Southern Pines area. We've seen a number of US Opens lately here -- two men's and three women's Opens in the past fifteen years, not to mention Champions and Nationwide events besides. But we've never seen anything like this: Pinehurst #2 will likely host the Men's and the Women's US Open back-to-back in consecutive weeks in 2014.

Ron Sirak of Golfworld reports:

"Barring one hurdle expected to be resolved Monday morning, the 2014 men's and women's U.S. Open will be played on Pinehurst No. 2 on consecutive weeks, multiple sources told Golf World. The U.S. Open will be conducted June 12-15 and the U.S. Women's Open will be played June 19-22, marking the first time the two national championships will be contested on the same course in back-to-back weeks.

"The announcement is planned for Wednesday by the USGA at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black outside New York City, the sources said. Sources familiar with the situation said "there is one issue on a local level that needs to be resolved or it could all fall apart." The fact that the move would result in winners all around -- the USGA, the Pinehurst Resort, the community of Pinehurst as well and men's and women's golf -- suggests the local issues will be resolved."

If this comes to pass, and the 2014 U.S. Women's Open is held on the venerable Donald Ross design, Pinehurst No. 2 will become the first and only course to host the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women's Amateur, along with the North and South Amateur, the Macgladry and numerous other events.

The Pinehurst resort iteself has eight championship-caliber courses, and is on the same street as Pine Needles Golf Club, home of three women's US Opens. If there is a Rodeo Drive of Golf, it is without doubt Midland Road -- a road one could spend a lifetime traveling up and down and playing some of the best golf courses in the world.

And people ask me why I rarely go to Myrtle Beach (which I can drive to in less than two hours) to play golf. Why bother? I would pass too many truly great courses on the way.

June 11, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury Like An Ex-Con Ex-Wife Spurned

In the 17th century, playwright William Congreve wrote these timeless lines:

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

For John Daly, his estranged wife Sherrie is living out Congreve's truths while he plays in Memphis this week. In an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, she pleads her case by denying that she stabbed John two years ago, and that he's not the nice guy that everyone believes he is.

Standard bitter ex fodder, one would think, and one might even be sympathetic to her unless they look at the person saying it: Sherrie Daly is an ex-convict who recently pulled a five month stint in jail for her involvement in a drug ring and illegal gambling operation.

At the time, according to USA Today, prosecutors said the two-time major champion didn't know about his wife's activities, which took place between 1996-02.

Among other things, Sherrie Daly is not happy that she has a temporary restraining order preventing her from attending this week's tournament, and she claims it is not because she wants to follow her ex, but a friend instead. "If I want to follow Doug Barron, well, he's a friend." she says in the Memphis paper, "but I assure you, the last thing I want to do is get involved with John and his mistress."

Later in the article, she adds ""I'm so sick of this good guy image, this sweet guy who just loves kids and is so good to charity," Sherrie said. "If you're this nice guy, and you care all about these stranger kids and now you're wearing pink pants for Amy Mickelson, how come you have ..." which reporter Geoff Calkins says a lurid and embarrassing tale (for John) of their marriage follows.

Daly and his lawyer are forbidden by the courts to comment on the matter. If they even want to.

One has to wonder if Daly, who is working hard to leave his past behind, would have anything to say in any case. While it is impossible to escape one's past, the choice remains as to whether or not one wants to relive it, and it would seem from this year's results that John Daly has chosen not to do that. The past, after all, belongs mostly to lessons learned and hopefully once he leaves Memphis he will find quieter times where his former wife is concerned.

Some Summertime Hydration Tips

It’s summer and that means that it’s critical to your game that you make a conscious effort to keep your body hydrated. Your scores, and your health depend on it!

Studies have proven that a loss of two or more percent of one's body weight due to sweating is linked to a drop in blood volume. That’s not very much, if you think about it. When you lose that much water, your blood thickens, and you heart has to work harder to move blood through your bloodstream. It can cause muscle cramps, dizziness and fatigue and even heat stroke or in extreme cases, death. That doesn’t sound too good for your golf game, not to mention your overall general health.
But How At Risk Are You?

Two percent of your weight is not a lot, especially over the course of a four (or five!) hour round on a hot summer day. Some simple math shows us as much: given that two pounds per hundred that you weigh is two percent. For a 185 pound man, that’s a mere 3.7 pounds, and for all intents and purposes the entire weight loss in a round of golf is sweat.

Sweat, for the most part, is water, plus some electrolytes, but for the purposes of this rough calculation, we’ll treat it as though it were pure water. That means, again, roughly speaking, that a gallon of sweat weighs about 8.3 pounds. So, two percent of sweat in the 185 pound fellow in our example is 1.8 pints – not very much at all.

So losing that two percent is easier than we might think, even if you’re not a heavy sweater. While studies show that women sweat less than men, generally speaking, again, two percent on a hot summer day pretty much anywhere is fairly common.

That in mind, it’s a good idea for both you and your golf game to prepare for the heat beforehand and also to mitigate your thirst during your round in order to maintain your energy and hydration levels.

Here are some do’s and don’ts that sports medicine practitioners have developed:

  1. Drink Water Before, During and After for peak performance and safety
  2. Don't Drink Caffeine Drinks, they make dehydration worse
  3. Don’t Drink Alcoholic Drinks, They Make Things Worse
  4. Consider Sports Drinks-they provide hydration and some needed carbohydrates
  5. Don’t Bother With Electrolyte-Plus Drinks, you probably don't need them golfing

Water is your best friend on the golf course on a hot day if you are serious about your score and your health. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “ a pre-hydration program will help ensure that any previously incurred fluid-electrolyte deficit is corrected
prior to initiating the exercise task. When hydrating prior to exercise the individual should
slowly drink beverages (for example, ~5–7 mL per Kilogram of body weight) at least 4 hours before the exercise task.”

In other words, drink a reasonable amount of water well before you play in order to ensure that your body hits the first tee already hydrated. Starting with a deficit, it is likely that you’ll never catch up.

Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor and a diuretic, meaning that it constricts your blood vessels (making your heart work harder) and also as a diuretic, meaning it stimulates your body to reduce the water it contains. That’s a double whammy of going in the wrong direction. (see: http://www.medicinenet.com/caffeine/page3.htm)

Alcohol has the same diuretic effects as caffeine, meaning it works against your hydration, and causes you to lose more hydration than you gain. Save drinking until the 19th hole.

Sports drinks can be helpful to golfers for two reasons: while golf is hardly as intense as aerobic exercise or competition, a round does generally last a lot longer than a typical workout or game. A five-hour round on a busy course in the summer is not at all unusual and that’s quite a long time to be out in the heat. That’s why a sports drink like Gatorade is good, because it supplies 60 to 100 calories per 8 ounces, and that helps to supply the needed calories required for maintaining your concentration, which in turn leads to smoother and better golf swings.

It's really not necessary to replace losses of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes during exercise since you're unlikely to deplete your body's stores of these minerals during a normal round, but just in case, most sports drinks pack those in too, and any excess will be combed out of your system by your kidneys and eliminated through your urinary system.

sources: American College of Sports Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control, WebMD.com, about.com

June 10, 2009

A poweful stroke seen on the golf course last night...

It never ceases to amaze me how folks continue to play golf in the face of an approaching thunderstorm. Last night, in the gloaming of dusk, a storm approached, yet folks continued to finish out their rounds before calling it a day. Me, I love the game, but I love life even more than that, and the idea of sticking a highly conductive metal rod high in the air in the middle of field of grass and into the face of a thunderstorm makes less than zero sense to me. That could turn the fairway into the Green Mile quite unexpectedly, and before they realize it (literally) some careless folks may well be playing the last golf shot they will ever play.

After the sun set, the storm drew on top of us and put on quite a show. I decided to sit on the front porch (well protected, thanks) and take a few pictures of it. Lightning is very easy to photograph with a little knowledge and the right equipment, and I have both -- being a professional photographer and all -- and I got this shot. Over the tree is the 18th fairway, and believe you me, I wouldn't have been out there for anything:


For a full-sized view of this stroke from the sky, take a look here: link

Finally, here are some common-sense lightning safety tips for golfers.

June 9, 2009

Former Golf Detractor Plays a Round, Says He's Hooked

This story should sound familiar to many of us: guy insists golf is not a sport, it isn't that challenging because people drink beer while playing it, and that most of the top pros have beer bellies. Of course, they haven't played any golf for themselves. Once they do, they discover the truth about the game, that it's as challenging as any they've ever played and that their opponent is themself, not the other guy. They learn that golf can be a mix of poetry followed by screamed obscenities. Basically, after that first round, they "get it."

It also takes a big person to admit that their prejudices were wrong, and an even bigger one to do so in a column on one of the biggest media outlet's in the world's website. Such is LZ Granderson, on ESPN.com today:

A Golf Critic Has a Change of Heart

"Suffice it to say I'm hooked.

"I triple-bogeyed my first hole of the day. Then I spent the next 17 holes competing against an opponent I had overlooked for most of my adult life: me.

"Head down, arm straight, shoulders leveled, feet together, feet apart … at times I didn't know if I was playing golf or auditioning for Broadway.

"I never thought golf was an easy sport per se. But I have tended to snicker at the thought of Woods or Phil Mickelson ever being in a "male athlete of the year" conversation that included the likes of Dwight Howard or Rafael Nadal. I guess I was so caught up in what was lacking physiologically in golf that I overlooked the psychology."

Indeed, LZ, what you learned was something that Bobby Jones said nearly a century ago -- that the toughest yardage on a golf course are the five inches between our ears. And this is a lesson you are going to learn over and over and over yet again as you continue to play golf, no matter how good you get at the sport. That and you will never stop learning how to play this confounding and addictive game.

You'll learn that there is nothing more hopeful than a bright morning and a blank scorecard. That afterward it will be filled with tales of the good and that you will almost always be able to point to places where it could have been even better. That you will hit shots you will never forget, and that many of them will be of the variety we wish we could indeed erase from our memory banks forever. You'll find that golf will bring you great friendships and that it will at times dare the devil in you to come roaring out. You'll find yourself watching golf on television, in wonder at how easy the pros make it look, knowing how hard it actually is.

Most of all, you'll probably wish you had started playing a lot sooner than you did. That will because once a round, or once a week or month, you will hit a shot or a putt every bit as good as Tiger or Phil ever could, and it will leave you wishing you did this all day every day. It's a fundamental truth that a bad day of golf is better than any day in any office.

Golf is like that. And it's a lot more. Welcome to the club.

My only advice to you is to go find a pro and get lessons now, before you build habits and tendencies. With the pro, you'll be able to build yourself the right kind of swing from the start and you won't spend your life fighting a bad habit you'll wish you'd never picked up. Lessons are a shortcut through heartache. Trust me on this, I had a horrible slice for nigh on ten years before I found a teacher who fixed me up. By the way, he's the same guy who taught Michael Jordan, and if you want his number, I can hook you up.

June 8, 2009

My Usual Game: Sidelined By Yard Work (?!)

But Mrs. Old Man Par plays Pinehurst anyway...
I thought that I would get some long-neglected domestic duties out of the way on Saturday morning, starting with getting some yard work done that I have been putting off all summer. Saturday was one of those gifts-from-the-gods sort of days, an early summer day that was neither humid nor hot, and it presented a last-chance opportunity to do some manual labor before the temperatures in North Carolina are set to "Purgatory" for the next three months.

I weeded the gardens, trimmed the edges of the grass, planted some seedlings, among other things, and finally came to the last chore. It was to clean up a couple of bushes in the front yard that had been marked for removal by my wife's pruning shears. She'd cut them off to the ground, as they looked like they'd died, but in fact, she simply stimulated them to start growing with renewed vigor -- and they looked awful, almost as though someone had cut their hair with a Flowbee and then just let it grow back unkempt. They had to go.

Easy enough, I thought, as I yanked the two of them out of the ground that's been softened by a week solid of rain. Then, before putting them in the mountain of yard waste that'd been built through the morning. While I did it, I was thinking that I might head off to the golf course a couple of hours later, and get in 18 holes, and then play again Sunday morning on dew-sweeping duties with my friends. And that's when my troubles began: I shook one of the newly pulled bushes so the soil clinging to the roots could refill the hole in the ground left behind... and when I did, I stabbed my right hand with a root sharpened by chopping out the bush a couple minutes before. Ouch! Frak!

I was immediately in some serious pain, as though it was a deep stab wound (it wasn't, maybe a quarter of an inch) or had hit a nerve (didn't happen.) Throbbing, deep, real pain. Huh? WTF?

I'm not a wimp, and I have hurt myself in small ways and large in my time. This little bitty inconsequential wound hurt on the level of a broken thumb or foot. Odd, I thought to myself. I washed it out best I could, put on a Band-Aid, took an aspirin and manned up and finished up my chores.

End of story, or so I thought.

Wrong-o!!! A half hour later the back of my hand started itching with the kind of an itch that scratching won't cure. Then the itch slowly travelled up my arm. Again, no big deal, it was as if the bush was poison ivy, which I am not even allergic to. I thought that the itching would go away in a few minutes. It didn't. It only got worse and my arm from my elbow down turned a bright red, as though it was badly suburned.

Then came swelling in my hand and forearm...to almost twice their normal size. I could barely close my fingers and instead of itching I got throbbing pain instead.

Yikes! Rather than waiting for hours in a Doc-In-The-Box (an urgent care center) I took some Benadryls and the requisite nap that goes with the sleepy-time side effects of that drug. A little help, but not much.

Overnight Saturday, the swelling didn't subside and the pain held steady. I seriously was considering going to the Emergency Room in the morning when I remembered I had some Prednisone in the cabinet, which is about as potent an anti-inflammatory medication as one can get this side of a shot in the keester from a doctor. Coupled with some more Benadryls, I took that just after I called my buddy Leo and cancelled out of our Sunday foursome -- to which he teased me that I was just afraid he'd beat me and came up with any excuse I could think of. Then he told me to get better after I told him to drop by and have a look for himself. There was just no way I could hold a golf club, much less take the pounding of impact through the course of a round.

Thankfully, the swelling started going down today, taking with it the headaches and itching. All caused by yardwork! So now, we come to the Moral of the story: keep your priorities straight and never do yardwork. It is hazardous to your health and will harm your golf game. Keep in mind what's important in life, and it ain't Yard of the Month.

Meanwhile, my lovely wife headed out to play at Pinehurst's fabulous #8 course, a Tom Fazio creation that's among the top 10 in the country in terms of being friendly to women. She had a blast while I glowered out of the living room window at players coming and going to our 17th green, cursing my bad luck all the while.

On the other hand, I did get to watch the entire final round of The Memorial, where I got to see Tiger Woods finally unveil his post-knee-reconstruction A-game.

Tiger literally didn't miss a fairway all afternoon and pretty much put on a clinic with a seven-under 65 to come back from four down and take the win. The finish on 18 was incredibly Tiger-esque -- a ~180 yard shot to fourteen inches on a pin tucked tight to the right edge of the green and behind a bunker, the kind of flag that's labeled "sucker" on the pin-sheet and one that a sensible player stays the heck away from. Well, sensible players not named Tiger Woods. The win was impressive, sure, but the most impressive thing to me was the demeanor of Woods out on the course through the back-and-forth final round. All day, Tiger was as patient as a cat staring out of a window. And when the time came, on 15, 17 and 18, he pounced, scoring birdies on some of the harder holes on the Tour. The other players, Jim Furyk included, wilted under the pressure of needing birdies on tough holes with 14.5-speed greens, but Tiger held steady and had his best round of the year. While seeing that unfold was fun, it was only a consolation prize for missing golfing with my pals.

Finally, wouldn't you know it...when I woke up to come in for another week of work here in the office, the swelling and pain are all but gone and the only reminder of the weekend is a raw looking wound on the pad of my right hand. Isn't it funny how bad luck goes like that?

June 5, 2009

Beware The Clubslinger and The Volcano

Like an errant helicopter blade, I watched a nine-iron whoosh-whoosh-whooshing towards the creek the fronts the 17th green on my home course last night. It was chased by a string of four-letter expletives I will spare you, and both of these things went a lot further than the fellows's golf ball. It lay safely for all time in the marshes of the creek, probably never to be seen again.

This is a scene that repeats itself endlessly on the fringes of my backyard, there and on courses everywhere every day. An amateur golfer hits a bad shot and his or her temper explodes like Mount Vesuvius, covering anyone nearby with the lava of their obscenities -- and if the spectator is truly unlucky, a golf club besides.

I often wonder why? I realize well that golf can bring the best and the worst out in people, but I also realize that most of us work a full time job far away from the golf course, and that we have other duties like family and home to take care besides. Golf is supposed to be a respite from those things, a game we play ostensibly for fun and relaxation. Having a meltdown that resembles a three-year old's temper tantrum can't be relaxing or fun, can it?

We amateurs don't have the luxury of hitting hundreds of golf balls every day under the watchful eyes of top pros, all the while using the best equipment customized just for us. We probably don't have specialized workouts and diets to keep our bodies in top condition. Most importantly, we probably don't have ten percent of the talent that your average touring pro has. If we're lucky we might get in one or two full rounds a week, compared to a pro's typical regimen of five or more. Yet our expectations are to hit every shot "like Tiger." Rarely if ever is that going to happen.

It's one thing to utter a curse word or two after hitting an out-of-of character bad shot. Golf is a four-letter word, after all, but that's a lot different than yelling and screaming or tossing clubs like an Apache warrior would throw a tomahawk. I've never played golf with a saint, and goodness knows I'm no saint either. But I did learn a valuable lesson a long time ago that helped me curb my temper on the golf course, and one I am glad to have never needed to repeat.

When I was twelve or thirteen years old, I was afforded a rare opportunity to play with the adults, and I was determined to show my skills and prove my manhood to them all. I was going to drive the ball further, hit the ball closer and sink every putt, leaving them all with gaping mouths at this young phenomenon sure to break every record on the books.

Things didn't work out that way, of course. I played okay, but couldn't hit it as far as my Dad and his friends. When their balls found the short grass of the greens, mine would land astray in bunkers or in the woods. Each time that happened, I got more and more angry, and finally on the seventh hole, my anger erupted.

After an indifferent drive of maybe 160 yards, I tried to hit a three wood from the edge of the fairway. I needed the ball to go a long way to at least catch up, but I didn't want that. I wanted it to go further and onto the green. After all, my future as a PGA pro was on the line! I took a mighty backswing, ripped the club down, and.....dug a trench six inches long behind the ball. The divot flew further than anything and as I watched in horror, I was somehow possessed by the devil and flew into a rage.

The first thing I did was snap the shaft of the three wood over my knee. The second thing I did was start yelling GD's and F-bombs at the top of my lungs, words that were 100% verboten in front of my parents. Finally, I slung the remnants of the club - a Christmas present from the previous year - into the woods. Man, did I feel better.

Then I saw the look my Dad was giving me.

Ruh-roh, Relroy.

I looked into his eyes and saw a contempt that only a father can give a son. It's the look that says simultaneously that not only was I in deep doo-doo, there was also no escaping it. Dead man walking, they say, and that man was me.

"First of all, you will apologize to these men. Now," he said. "Then you will take your clubs and wait beside the car for me. We're going to have a little talk later. Do you understand me, mister?" he asked in an even voice.

Flushed with embarrassment and shame, I could only stammer an answer. "Y-y-yes sir."

"Apologize. Now." he said, still not raising his voice.

"I-I-I'm sorry." I said in a meek voice. I got no reply, just blank stares from everyone.

"Now MOVE!" Dad said, and after I lifted my clubs, off he went without a word.

That was an incredibly long walk, perhaps one of the worst ones I have ever had. I think only the one into my mother's funeral years later could come even close to comparing. There I felt sorrow and loss. Walking to the parking lot from the golf course, I felt tears and shame. Deep shame.

When my Dad came back, he still showed no anger. But he showed no mercy. No golf for six months, he said. Grounded for one month. And if I ever pulled a stunt like that again -- and he left it at that, figuring my imagination would devise a punishment far worse than any he could describe.

The next day he gave me a little talk about golf. No one likes playing with a jerk, he said, and I was a bona fide Class A a** the day before. Then he added that no one really cares about anything but their own ball and the company that they are with. Golf might make you angry, he finished, but at the end of the day the only thing that really matters was getting to play at all.

Good advice, and I have never forgotten it. These days, rarely if ever does my temper flare on a golf course, other than perhaps swiping a tee or a whispered epithet after a horrible shot. Nothing that would embarrass me anyway.

And that's a lesson a lot of Sunday amateurs everywhere could learn.